Carol had tried everything when it came to helping her middle school daughter Claire understand her math homework. As if teenage girls and their moms don’t have enough to butt heads about, trying to figure out the math homework became a nightly battle, and nobody was winning.
In a moment of frustration, Carol asked her daughter to “just tell me what your teacher is telling you to do!!” Sarcastically and with a bit of an attitude, Claire stood up in front of her and pretended to be standing in front of a chalkboard. She began to explain the particular concept from the very beginning. Carol stopped and asked Claire to clarify something she had said, and Claire was able to go back and help her mother understand. It then clicked for Carol: if Claire could teach Carol, instead of the other way around, Claire would be able to learn the content thoroughly. She had always heard that the best way to test if you really know something is to teach it to someone else. By teaching, you quickly learn how much you know, and learn how to word things differently and still come to the same answer.
And this began Carol and Claire’s breakthrough study method. Each night, Claire would come home and stand in front of Carol and “teach” her the new concept they had learned in class that day. Carol would always ask “why?” in order for Claire to fully explain why she did each step and how it contributed to the final outcome.
Teaching the subject to her mother helped Claire feel in control, and made it much less of a power struggle between the two. It allowed Claire to feel confident in her knowledge and in her ability to teach someone else something that she had just learned.
Claire’s grades went up dramatically, and her teachers took notice right away. When they learned what Claire and her mom were doing at home, they incorporated it into class time; having students with a firm grasp of the content teach smaller groups, and then having each of the students teach the others in the group. The feedback from the students was very positive. They enjoyed hearing the content presented in a different way, and loved that their classmates could give real world examples that made sense to them. It created a stronger bond between the students, and test scores skyrocketed.
Studies show over and over again that teaching something to someone else is a great way for both people to learn and understand a new concept. Knowing that they are responsible for someone else’s understanding of a new subject helps students focus and pay attention to what they are learning, as most students don’t want to let their classmates down or appear unprepared. This combined with math tutoring is a great combination for accelerating learning.
The benefits to “teaching as learning” are endless, and may be just the trick your struggling student needs to boost their confidence and their grades.